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Putin urges calm over arrest

From CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin

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Khodorkovsky, the son of Moscow factory workers, was worth $7 billion by age 40. CNN's Jill Dougherty reports (October 26)
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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday, making his first public comments since the arrest of billionaire oil tycoon Mikahil Khodorkovsky over the weekend, urged everyone to "stop the hysteria."

Putin, quoted by Russia's Interfax news agency during a government meeting, said no one should draw any broad conclusions from what is happening to the head of the Yukos Oil Company.

"There will be no generalizations, analogies, precedents, especially in connection with privatization," Putin said. "I ask the government not to get involved in this discussion and for everyone to stop the hysteria and speculation in this matter."

Some Russian business figures have expressed concern that the arrest of Khodorkovsky could lead to the government reopening the issue of privatizations which occurred in the early to mid-1990s and in which business people like Khodorkovsky bought up state enterprises and companies for a pittance.

Putin has previously said the government has no intention of re-visiting the issue.

The president, however, spoke out forcefully about the need for everyone to be treated equally before the law.

In comments guaranteed to be popular among average Russians, he said, "An insignificant clerk, and a government official, even of the highest level ... a regular citizen, a mid-sized businessman and a major businessman ... irrespective of how many billions of dollars are in his personal and corporate accounts ... everyone has to be equal."

Putin also refused to meet with business and political leaders who are calling on him to defuse the crisis.

"There will be no meetings, no bargaining about the activity of law enforcement agencies if, of course, these agencies are acting within the framework of Russian law," Interfax quoted him as saying.

Many observers believe probe into Khodorkovsky politically motivated.
Many observers believe probe into Khodorkovsky politically motivated.

Even as the president made his comments, shares in Yukos Oil Company were plummeting nearly 20 percent, forcing Russia's RTS benchmark index to halt trading in the company's stock for an hour.

Khodorkovsky was jailed at Moscow's overcrowded Matrosskaya Tishina facility, in a cell with four other inmates.

The deputy justice minister was quoted by Russian media as saying the oil man "feels OK." By law, Khodorkovsky can be held for two months during which period prosecutors will carry out their investigation.

He is accused on seven counts of fraud, embezzlement and tax evasion totaling more than $1 billion. If convicted, Khodorkovsky could be sentenced to 10 years in prison.

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